Religious Freedom Bill Heads to Senate

OKLAHOMA CITY-Oklahoma students who express religious views at school would be guaranteed the same protections as students expressing secular views under legislation approved today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2211 creates the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, requiring schools to treat students who voluntarily express religious viewpoints the same as students expressing secular viewpoints on the same subject.

“Your First Amendment rights are not repealed when you walk through the schoolhouse door,” said state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City. “This bill simply ensures that children will not be persecuted or rewarded for discussing religious views at appropriate times. The legislation requires non-discrimination and equal treatment for all Oklahoma students and provides certainty for our school administrators.”

House Bill 2211 declares that students may “express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments” without being penalized or rewarded as long as their viewpoint is on the otherwise permissible topic. Under the bill, the otherwise permissible topic is always decided by the school.

The legislation also requires each school district to adopt a policy protecting the free speech rights of students at public events, such as graduation ceremonies.

In addition, the bill establishes clear protections for voluntary student organizations with religious missions “to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups.” The bill clearly states the right of those groups to meet in school buildings so long as other, comparable nonreligious groups can use the building.

The bill effectively codifies established Supreme Court decisions in state law, providing clear guidelines to school officials who have previously been inconsistent in their approach to students’ free speech rights, said State Rep. Daniel Sullivan.

“House Bill 2211 simply levels the playing field for all students, both those who profess religious faith and those who do not,” said Sullivan, R-Tulsa. “Our schools are meant to be centers of learning, not tools of censorship or intolerance. This law will not give religious children special rights or preferential treatment, but it will ensure they have equal rights and protections.”

House Bill 2211 passed out of the House by a vote of 71-25 and now proceeds to the Senate.

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